I have had the wonderful opportunity this weekend to spend some time reading the blogs of our DukeEngage students who are in the field. This is always a chance for me to live vicariously through the experiences of our participants. This point in the early summer provides an opportunity to watch students begin to navigate unfamiliar customs, languages, surroundings and cuisine. In fact, this morning I am most struck by the observations so many have made in their blogs about food.
So it got me to wonder, how does food relate to the kind of civic engagement we want our students to have? When I describe the nature of our programs to friends and colleagues, I always use the word “immersive” to describe our program design. By immersive, we want our students to be deeply exposed to the sites, sounds, smells and tastes of the communities in which they are doing their service. So it is with deep satisfaction and--some hunger--that I note this morning that food plays such an important role in the early weeks of cultural immersion and community relationship-building among DukeEngage students.
As Lindsey in Northern Island writes, “Food is perhaps the most universal way that people express gratitude, love, and a whole plethora of warm fellow-feelings.” Our students in Egypt perhaps provide the most tantalizing description of food. I would love to taste the Koosheri (hearty macaroni, fried onions, rice, lentils, and chick peas), street vendor chicken and fresh juice described by our students in Cairo. Or in Guatemala, the frijoles, tortillas and eggs that are the standard fare for the region, and the relief of finding a Domino’s Pizza for something more familiar. Then there’s Peru and the healing power of tea! Our students in Vietnam have been exposed to wide variety of delicacies, many that I can almost still taste from my time in Ho Chi Minh City , Vietnam many years ago.
I could go on. But check out the blogs for students’ perceptive first-hand accounts of the meaning that food has in the early days of their DukeEngage experience. As for me, I am going to fridge to eat some fresh picked strawberries.
Eric Mlyn, Director
Duke Center for Civic Engagement/DukeEngage